Maid who claimed she was stressed jailed seven years for causing toddler's death

Indonesian maid Maryani Usman Utar being escorted by the police on May 10, 2016.
Indonesian maid Maryani Usman Utar being escorted by the police on May 10, 2016.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Indonesian domestic helper Maryani Usman Utar, who pleaded guilty to causing the death of a toddler in her care, was convicted on Thursday (Nov 22) in the High Court and jailed for seven years.

Maryani, 25, had caused the death of one-year-old Richelle Teo Yan Jia between 2am and 7.36am at a flat in Block 225 Simei Street 4 on May 8, 2016.

The tragedy happened on Mother's Day.

The court heard the maid killed the child by gripping the back of her neck with her left hand and punching and pressing the left side of Richelle's neck with her right fist, until she stopped crying.

Maryani did this knowing such acts were likely to cause the girl's death.

In passing sentence, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng made clear the law needs to protect vulnerable children from violent caregivers.

The judge added the sentence should be a signal to deter others, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating factors.

The bespectacled and small-built Maryani, dressed in prison garb, remained quiet as the judge pronounced sentence.

A divorcee from a humble background in West Java, Maryani worked for the Teo family from January 2015, performing household chores and looking after the Teos' two children.

During the hearing, it emerged that three months after starting work with the family, she contacted the maid agency to request a transfer. She did this several times.

But Maryani was turned down and told to complete her contract. Mrs Teo also persuaded her to stay on.

Although Maryani said she was never subjected to ill-treatment, and was given adequate food, she claimed to be afraid of Mrs Teo, whom she said was always checking up on her and criticising her work.

Mrs Teo had also banned her from using a mobile phone, so the maid could focus on her job.

A month before the incident, Maryani said Mrs Teo scolded her while at a shopping mall. She felt humiliated and aggrieved.

In his submissions, her lawyer Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed said that unlike her previous employers in Saudi Arabia who were kind to her, Maryani found the experience with her employers in Singapore to be the opposite.

"She was driven by anger, frustration and fatigue when she assaulted Richelle," said Mr Muzammil, who had argued that there was no pre-meditation.

He also pointed to the Institute of Mental Health psychiatric assessment report which showed her mental condition at the material time had impaired her mental responsibility.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Bhajanvir Singh and Kelly Ho in their submissions underlined the public interest consideration in dealing with cases involving violence towards vulnerable victims, like the toddler in this case.

Among other things, they pointed out that mental condition was one aspect of the case and said "depression cannot be a licence to kill others", citing past cases.

Maryani, they said, was motivated by a desire for revenge for what she perceived was poor treatment by her employer.

They said instead of leaving her employment, which she could have done and had indeed threatened to do on several occasions, the accused vented her anger against Richelle in "such a heinous way as to cause her death".

"The accused's acts are repugnant and inexcusable."

The judge ordered Maryani's sentence to be backdated to May 10, 2016, and at the request of defence counsel, granted Indonesian Embassy officials, who were present, permission to speak with her at the end of the hearing.

Outside of the court, Mr Muzammil described the sentence as fair.

"Maryani genuinely and sincerely apologises to Mr and Mrs Teo and other family members for causing the death of Richelle.

"The guilt will remain with her throughout her life even after she returns to her village to reunite with her family," said the lawyer, who added Maryani wants to serve the jail term and move on.